Navigating relationships can sometimes feel a little complicated. We like to believe that we understand our own needs – and those of the other person. But more often than not, something goes wrong.
The relationship starts to fall apart.
We can feel it happening but we don’t know why. It just goes bad, like an apple.
When this happens, it’s a good idea to take a step back and consider how the whole thing is developing. Relationships, you see, are like something that grows. Over time, they build on themselves, forming outward in new directions, like water overflowing a riverbank. Sometimes, the flow of water gets dammed up, and can’t proceed further. Other times, it spills into new puddles and streams.
At the root of any healthy relationship is a sense of fun. Both parties see their interactions as joyous in themselves – like dancing or playing music – not some grim duty. But partnerships like this are few and far between.
Think about the couples you know. Are they just having fun, enjoying each other’s company? Or are they embattled in some sort of on-running war, trying to get the better of each other all the time?
If they’re like most relationships, it’s the latter. They’re in a kind of emotional war, balkanized against each other. It’s not pretty.
Where Does Relationship Dysfunction Come From?
Dysfunctional relationships tend to emerge when either party takes a “taking” approach to the interaction.
Think honestly about your reasons for getting into a relationship. Are you doing it because your cup is overflowing and you want to share the love with the other person? Or is it so that you can get something out of the interaction? Are you looking for another person to fill you up emotionally?
If it’s the former, you’re in a good place. You’re looking to serve the other person. You’re happy with your own life, but you’re looking to expand what you offer and touch other people in the world. That’s usually a positive thing. You’re just happy with being yourself and having somebody else come along for the ride.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for the other person to serve you, you’re in trouble. At first, they might feel like the most magical person in the world. You have a great time together and they fulfill all your requirements.
However, eventually, the sheen rubs off and you see them for who they are below the surface. They’re just a limited person, just like you. And they can’t make all your dreams come true, no matter how much you push them.
At root, this has nothing to do with them as people. It’s all to do with the fact that nobody else can fill your inner hole other than you.
Think about all the rich but unhappy people in the world. There are loads of them. They make the error of believing that having massive wealth can somehow paper over their inner discontent. It works temporarily – a couple of months perhaps – but eventually, it wears off. And they’re back to baseline.
The same is true of most people in relationships. They go into them believing that they will make them feel fulfilled and complete. But eventually, they find that they still feel the same as they always did, no matter how amazing their partner might be as a person.
The problem is that they’ve got the diagnosis wrong. They think that the thing they lack is something in the external world. But it’s not. It’s a way of being from within that counts.
Where Does Fun Come Into It?
With this in mind, you can see why fun relationships last, but serious ones don’t. In fun relationships, neither partner expects anything from the other. Both are already in that baseline state of contentment with life, no matter what it throws at them. There’s no need for the relationship itself to perform.
That fact alone eliminates a lot of the pressure. Neither person feels like they need to do certain things to keep things going. They don’t feel obligations. Instead, they just feel like a couple of people doing whatever is necessary to squeeze as much joy as they can from their existence.
Now consider the flip-side: the super-serious couple. Here, what the other partner thinks, does, and says is super important. That’s because your happiness relies on their actions. You never know what they’re going to do. But at any moment, they could disturb your peace. And that’s intolerable. You can’t stand it.
In this mental space, how do you behave? Well, you start trying to take control. You put pressure on them to be a certain way. You begin controlling their life.
And while that feels like the safe thing to do, it slowly starts eating away at their wellbeing. All of a sudden, they stop enjoying the relationship and begin to see it as a duty. Their service doesn’t arise organically from their true nature. Instead, it comes out of a sense of anxiety and fear towards you, so it never quite feels truly authentic.
Why Do Serious Relationships End?
When relationships take on this character, their days are numbered. Even if they don’t end officially, such setups invariably drain them of joy. Neither partner feels good. And the whole thing becomes a kind of grim duty.
Think about the relationships you know that just persist “because of the children.” Both partners are desperate for the thing to end. But they cling onto it out of a sense of fear, guilt, and duty. They don’t really want to be there but feel like they need to be.
Serious relationships are a little bit like serious sex. It’s not a natural expression of your joy and personhood. Instead, it’s a high-pressure situation that you don’t really like. And it comes with negative consequences, like herpes and genital wart treatment.
The opposite is the case when relationships come from a place of fun. Because you’re having such a good time, you naturally never want it to end. It’s already good enough in and of itself.
How Do You Make Relationships More Fun?
So what kind of things can you do to actually make your relationships more fun?
Well, the first thing to do is to choose the right partner. If possible, look for somebody who understands that life is essentially about merrimaking. Find somebody who doesn’t take the whole thing too seriously.
Next, work on yourself. Think about why you want a relationship. Is it so that somebody else can make you feel complete? Or is it just that you feel like your existence would be better shared?
If it’s the former, you’re in for a world of trouble. No matter how amazing your partner is, eventually, that nagging sense of incompleteness will return. If it’s the latter, you’re going to have a great time.
If you’re already in a relationship and can feel the fun oozing out of it, try to approach it as you did on day one. Every interaction with your partner is a new opportunity – a chance to be more giving and serving.
Don’t be afraid of service. Just try it as an experiment for a couple of months. See how your partner reacts. By the end of giving as much to the relationship as you can, you’ll have a sense of where you stand. If they give right back, you’re in a fun place. But if they exploit you, then you know the truth and are free to leave.